Urban Warriors

11/12/2014 2:02 PM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:24 AM IST
Hindustan Times via Getty Images
NEW DELHI, INDIA - JUNE 26: Indian women travel inside a Women Only metro train compartment after the inauguration of Mandi House-Central Secretariat line on June 26, 2014 in New Delhi, India. Over two million commuters use the Delhi Metro in the Indian capital daily. The new 3.2 kilometers route is estimated to benefit 70,000 commuters. (Photo by Sonu Mehta/Hindustan Times via Getty Images)

Outrage is very much the flavour of the season online, but it's not going to be enough. We have so far to go, so far to evolve. We are by and large classist if not outright casteist, hypocritical about our prejudices and overwhelmingly sexist.

We are cruel to our girls, even when we are not packing them off to the afterlife before birth. And how easily we deflect the blame on to the poorly educated and the illiterate, ignoring the fact that highly educated, upper middle class families, say in South Delhi, who are down the road from you -- people you know, even -- rampantly practice female foeticide.


We are cruel to our girls as they grow up, when we teach them to put their heads down and bash on through life, to ignore the stares and comments if they can. We are cruel to our girls out of fear sometimes -- we hope that they're lucky and that verbal harassment will be the extent of it. We fear in our hearts what will happen if our girls talk back -- Delhi, for one, is a city where anyone and everyone could be packing a weapon or worse.

This is a city that beats you into submission... I will say, just the other day, I worried about a friend of mine, who decided to call out street sexual harassment ('eve-teasing' by its proper name). He was more confrontational than I've ever been, and was all for going to the cops. But even as I lauded that courage, I had to acknowledge a sinking feeling -- Fear. What if the people in question had weapons? What if they ran over him?

What if...?

It's that fear the nails the lie that I tell my friends from time to time, that we are urban warriors. We are survivors, more like. Living in a battle zone, and we have learned how to blend into the background, some of us, we have learned not to enrage the beast, that is waiting just around the corner. We were jolted collectively by the brutality of the December 16 gang rape, yes, and we cried for the brave heart, even as many Dilliwalas took to the streets, demanding change.

But no one can truly say they were surprised. This is a city where brutality or the threat of violence is hidden just beneath the so-called modern veneer. And we all make our compromises to live here. Some of us don't go out alone at night, or even after dark in winter. Some of us try not to come back home alone after a night out. Though radio cabs have been a great leveller, many of us are Cinderella-like, but instead of a magic spell, we're trying to outrun bad luck.

"There's no letting down your guard in this city, the sun glints on its sharp edges," I write in my forthcoming novel The Sibius Knot, and I think that sums up a critical truth. But it's not just the Capital, with the horror seeping through its cracks.

There's a family in Hyderabad who will be mourning their son even as you read this -- 19-year-old Harshvardhan Rao paid with his life, for standing up and preventing a college student from being harassed. Actress Gauhar Khan was slapped in front of a live audience for 'wearing a short skirt', despite security at hand, despite a buffer, despite being in Mumbai. And already there are people defending her assailant.

This is a difficult country to navigate, there's no doubt about it. I will say, at least in the name of hope, that we have also seen some progress. I'm from the pre-Metro generation, you have to remember. The metro changed everything in Delhi. Finally, we had safe and efficient public transport! And although I initially had my doubts about a 'Women's Only' coach, I was a quick convert. Convenience and safety trump all. If roads outside stations were as well lit, we'd be making another quantum leap.

The other major game-changer that girls from my generation will vouch for -- the simple idea to open a chain of cafes. I'm not kidding, and I will be eternally grateful, Barista. The year 2000 was the first step in that direction -- one of the first public spaces where a girl could go and sit on her own, not be stared at, groped or worse. Millennials are lucky enough to not see this as a novelty. (And of course I'm talking here about those of us who are extremely privileged -- not quite the 1%, but we were financially viable, clearly, and lucky enough to afford coffee every so often.)

We have to create more such public spaces, or 'reclaim' them, as Blank Noise tells us, exhorting us to be 'action heroes'. We need to name and shame, to vocalize the issues, and keep the fight going. And we need to start having serious conversations with our boys at home. You can argue with the messaging of the recent #VogueEmpower ads starring Madhuri Dixit, but at least have the conversation -- and yes like the hash tag says, #StartwiththeBoys.

Every time these conversations come to light, perhaps we're preventing a few confrontations, perhaps we're making people realize that safety from harassment is a pre-requisite, that equality is the name of the game.


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